Pope Francis: conversion isn’t just an appearance – it’s a matter of the heart

by Elise Harris. .- In his Sunday Angelus address Pope Francis said that merely obeying the rules isn’t enough to make us holy, but that if we truly want to serve God our conversion has to be deeper, changing the heart.

“It's not exterior things which make us holy or not holy, but it's the heart that expresses our intentions, our choices and the desire to do everything out of love for God,” the Pope told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Aug. 30.

“External attitudes are the consequence of what we have decided in the heart, not the contrary: with external attitudes, if the heart doesn't change, we aren't true Christians.”

Pope Francis based his reflections on the day’s Gospel reading from Mark, in which the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus and his disciples for not following the tradition of “purifying” themselves by washing their hands before meals or when coming from the market.

Jesus’ response that “you disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition” has a strong prophetic tone that fills us with admiration for him, the Pope said.

“We feel that in him there is truth and that his wisdom frees us from prejudice,” he noted, but cautioned that Jesus’ words aren’t aimed for just the Pharisees, but are also meant to put us on guard.

With these words Jesus warns against the belief that a simple external observance of the law is enough to be considered a good Christian, he said.
“As then with the Pharisees, there is also the danger for us to consider ourselves good, or better than others based on the simple fact that we obey the rules, the customs, even if we don't love our neighbor, we are hard of heart, superior and proud,” Francis observed.

The literal observance of the rules is “sterile” unless the heart also changes in a visible way, seen through concrete attitudes such as being open to an encounter with God and his word, pursuing justice and peace, and helping the poor, the weak and the oppressed, he continued.

Francis said that that the harm done to the Church by “those people who say they are very Catholic and go to church often, but after, in their daily lives, within the family, talk badly about others,” is well-known within our communities, parishes and neighborhoods.

 This, he said, “is what Jesus condemns, because this is a counter-Christian witness.”

Pope Francis then pointed to Jesus’ declaration in the Gospel passage that “nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile,” saying his words signal a deeper aspect of Christian life.

What Jesus underlines is the “primacy of interiority, of the heart,” the Pope noted, adding that the line between good and evil doesn't pass outside of us, “but within us.”

Francis then encouraged attendees to question themselves on their own internal state by asking where their heart is at.

Jesus, he noted, “said that your treasure is where your heart is. What is my treasure? Is it Jesus and his doctrine?”

“The heart must be purified and converted,” the Pope continued, adding that without a pure heart, “you can't truly have clean hands and lips which speak sincere words of love, mercy and forgiveness. Only a sincere and pure heart is able to do this.”

Pope Francis concluded his speech by praying that Mary would intercede in helping to obtain for them “a clean heart, free from every hypocrisy.”

After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, the Pope drew attention to the beatification of Syro-Catholic bishop Flavien-Michel Malké, who was killed in 1915 amid the Ottoman Empire's genocide against its Christian minorities.

The bishop was declared “Blessed” yesterday during a special liturgy celebrated by Ignatius Youssef III Younan, Syriac Patriarch of Antioch, at the convent of Our Lady of Deliverance in Harissa, Lebanon.

In the context of a brutal persecution against Christians, the bishop “was a tireless defender of the rights of his people, urging all to remain firm in the faith,” the Pope said, noting how even today Christians are still persecuted worldwide.

Bishop Malké’s beatification inspired “consolation, courage and hope” in those who suffer because of their faith, he said. He expressed his desire that the beatification would serve as “a stimulus for legislators and government leaders, so that religious freedom is ensured everywhere, and for the international community, that it put an end to violence and abuse.”

Pope Francis officially approved of Bishop Malké’s martyrdom during an Aug. 8 meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. His beatification fell on the 100th anniversary of his martyrdom.

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